Peter Smith

Appeasement and defeatism

Israel is not immune from making blunders

“War is mainly a catalogue of blunders.”So said Winston Churchill with perspicacity borne of bitter experience. Apparently though, Israel is to be held to a higher standard and not only by its avowed and intractable enemies. Four pieces taken from the Australian illustrate the point.

The situation is clear enough. Israel is blockading Gaza because it believes that Hamas will obtain missiles and other weapons to attack Israel. No-one, I think, could reasonably say that Israel has exaggerated the threat. You can debate if you like who is ultimately right and who is wrong in the struggle. There is room for debate about whether the blockade is harming civilians and whether Israel is doing enough to ensure adequate supplies of non-military goods get through. But this isn’t about that. It is about how Israel conducted itself in enforcing the blockade.

Brendan O’Neill in condemning the moral siege of Israel by the ‘respectable world’, writes :“Of course the invasion of the flotilla by Israel defence forces, during which at least nine people were killed, was a deplorable and foolish act of violence”.

Abraham Rabinovich having commented that the confrontation was ‘extremely embarrassing’ refers to suggestions of an alternative strategy, coming from some commando veterans, “that the navy simply foul the rudders of blockade runners and leave them to drift for a while.”

The Australian in an editorial said that, “Israel’s right to defend itself is beyond doubt” but at the same time said that Israel, must avoid “unforced errors” in defending itself.

Greg Sheridan, the foreign editor of the Australian, and who in my view usually writes brilliantly, said: “There’s no doubt Israel tactically mishandled the naval operation against the flotilla of six ships”.

Exactly what are these people suggesting Israel should do when six ships on the high seas are intent on breaking the blockade? They either stop the ships or drop the blockade. There is no middle course.

Presumably Mr O’Neill disagrees with the blockade. But he doesn’t say so. Certainly it was a ‘deplorable’ act of violence, if the blockade is wrong. So, say the blockade is wrong, if that is what you think.

In enforcing the blockade; one thing to do is to warn and then sink. Now that would deter future ships but is obviously untenable. How about the ‘brilliant’ suggestion of fouling rudders? That would look good; setting people adrift on the high seas without steering and wouldn’t they revel in the drawn out impasse.

The Australian’s advice to avoid making ‘unforced errors’, wasn’t advice to Roger Federer. It was to Israel in circumstances in which six ships are told to alter course and ignore the request. Presumably, having read the Australian’s editorial, you tell your soldiers, before they have any idea of what they will meet, that they must at all costs avoid unforced errors. Is that a joke or what?

Exactly how did Israel ‘mishandle’ things, as Greg Sheridan maintains. Cleary people died so it must have been mishandled, mustn’t it? This is the most irritating hindsight view of the world. What are you to do to minimise the risk of injury or death if a ship refuses your request to alter course? Presumably boarding is what you have to do. Now, how exactly do you do that if those on board are intent on resisting or, worse still, if you don’t quite know whether they will resist or to what extent. In fact, as it turned out, those on board one ship armed themselves, and appeared from video evidence to have fought fiercely, while those on other ships were compliant. Maybe, some great military tactician could develop a failsafe strategy in these circumstances, but I doubt it. Napoleon put store on his generals being lucky because he appreciated, before Churchill, what a lottery was the conduct of war.

You have two choices when facing an armed soldier. One is to do as he says. The other is to fight and resist. This may be brave, and even noble if the cause is good, but don’t think that the ensuing violence should have been somehow avoided by the other side’s brilliant harm-minimisation tactics. Rely upon experience that brilliant military tactics generally exist only in hindsight. In the here and now there is only a catalogue of blunders.

To avoid making unforced errors or tactical mistakes; to put yourself in a position where you can do no inadvertent harm, is simply modern Western code for appeasement and defeatism. Our enemies, and Israel’s enemies, will have no such code to inhibit them. That we should count on.

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